The sleet and ice falling on us Saturday morning sure didn’t get us dreaming of a white Christmas, but it did that magical Michigan thing of helping us enjoy the great indoors all the more. With the fireplace roaring and the lights on our 11’ tree twinkling, the hygge was like a scented oil engulfing us with a sense of comfort and contentment. Such a setting requires a proper meal, and the kind of food that satisfies on days like this doesn’t come fast. I knew what we needed, and got started early at the farmers’ market. Not much left, and most of the vendors will be shutting down till the market reopens second weekend in January. But a few of the hardy farmers had their wonderful root vegetables laid out. Who can resist those pretty parsnips, hardy turnips, glorious plump carrots, and tightly packed sprouts? It was a bad year for rutabegas, so that’ll be missing this year. But later that afternoon, those hardy veggies would be joining some generous chunks of beef in my biggest iron pot to emerge with Sunday’s stew.
Now every stew is a unique exercise, as each season always presents its own variety, although the basics remain the same. I don’t know if it’s my accounting background (1), or just all those years of rheumatology trying to keep complex things organized, but I approach each new or revised recipe with a spreadsheet in which I lay out features of what I’ve got and probably tried already (see below). For our stew, that means 3 from the recipe box and 5 from the binder.
Spread out, commonalities become apparent: like stuff to never leave out. Couched in some recipes are little tricks that don’t translate to the spreadsheet, like my late Aunt Dorie’s admonition in her excellent recipe for “Perfect Brown Stew” (how do you argue with that? I’ve made it and it is) for a teaspoon of lemon juice to tenderize the meat and add a little zip. Notes for a little sweetener creep up all over, and I recall how nice that “Mahogany Beef Stew” turned out with that good dollop of hoisin sauce. And what about the horseradish kick from “Fine Cooking”? Also not getting into the spreadsheets are the “end of recipe” instructions on how to make a nice brown gravy to finish. Who likes runny stew? I had good luck using chickpea flour last run through my “beef & brussels sprouts stew”. What do you call runny stew? Soup!
So I will inscribe the new recipe in my lab book then get to chopping and browning. The stew will cook slow in the oven while we’re at the basketball game, sit to cool in the garage over night, then be at the ready for whatever meal we choose on Sunday. Maybe we’ll have it for breakfast, with a nice bold red. Well, eggs and bacon on muffins with Hatch’s green chili sauce washed down by Vampire Marys (2) beat that out, but dinner is coming.
Here’s what it looks like in the pot. Shame the internet can’t do aromas yet.
And here’s the recipe if you care to try. Hurry up while your farmers still have their parsnips, turnips, carrots, and sprouts! (I never put the sprouts in this one as there wasn’t enough room in the pot).
Remember, recipe cards don’t tell the whole story. This one misses that I forgot to put the potatoes in till late (they still cooked), I never used the wine I had set aside, I had to put some dry thyme in as I only had a couple sprigs left, and there really wasn’t 2 T of horseradish in that last jar in the house. Plus there are pauses that are key to making a good stew. For this one, there was the overnight in the garage (Michigan’s high capacity refrigerator), another warm up this afternoon for the thickening, then the several hours in a slow (1750) oven awaiting my sweetheart’s return from Winter Commencement ceremonies (any excuse to get into those doctoral robes). All that time for the marrying and mingling of flavors. But it’ll be ready for sure, and hygge will be served along with stew and wine.
And then, remember back in school when they told you to “show your work”. Here’s the stew spreadsheet I created to get to this recipe. Everything old is new again.
1. Ike RW. Make it add up, doc. Strategies Account Manag 2021;2(4) SIAM.000542.2021 https://crimsonpublishers.com/siam/pdf/SIAM.000542.pdf.
2. Ike B. Vampire Marys. WordPress. February 5, 2020. https://theviewfromharbal.com/2020/02/06/vampire-marys/